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Leading Rohingya activist killed in Bangladesh

September 30, 2021

Mohib Ullah was known for his tireless effort to highlight the struggles of the Rohingya refugees who were forced to flee to Bangladesh following a deadly crackdown by Myanmar's military in 2017.

Mohib Ullah, a leader for the Rohingya community, addresses a ceremony organised to remember the second anniversary of a military crackdown that prompted a massive exodus of people from Myanmar to Bangladesh.
Mohibullah carried on his work despite death threatsImage: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP

One of the most well-known community leaders to have voiced the suffering of Rohingya refugees on the world stage was shot and killed in a refugee camp in southern Bangladesh on Wednesday, a United Nations spokesperson said.

Mohibullah was in his late 40s. He was a teacher and an ardent advocate for the welfare of the Rohingya community who fled a military crackdown in Myanmar in 2017. More than 700,000 people were forced to flee to neighboring Bangladesh then.

Most of them live together in a town called Cox's Bazar, the world's largest refugee settlement. Instances of violence have become increasingly rampant in the amps, with armed men often jostling for influence, kidnapping critics, and warning women against breaking conservative Islamic norms.

Rafiqul Islam, a deputy police superintendent at Cox's Bazar, confirmed news of the shooting to Reuters news agency as well. However, details about the incident are not fully clear yet.

Mohibullah, a beacon of hope

Mohibullah established the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, a group that tirelessly worked to highlight the plight of refugees living in camps.

The group made its name by documenting the atrocities that were meted out to the community during the military crackdown. The UN had said that the crackdown of 2017 was carried out with genocidal intent.

Mohibullah went from hut to hut to build a tally of killings, rape and arson that he shared with international investigators. His organization also worked to give Rohingya people a voice of their own. 

He had told the UN Human Rights Council in 2019 that he wanted the Rohingya to be a part of the decisions that were being taken for them. He had also met former US President Donald Trump at the White House in 2019, where he spoke of the suffering of his community.

Given his advocacy, Mohibullah also became the target of other hardliners who threatened to kill him. 

"If I die, I'm fine. I will give my life," he told Reuters news agency in 2019.

People mourn his death

A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the agency was "deeply saddened" by the killing of the activist.

"We are continuous contact with law enforcement authorities in charge of maintaining peace and security in the camps," a UNHCR spokesperson said.

Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of Human Rights, said Mohibullah's death not only undermined the struggle of the Rohingya community for greater rights, "but also their efforts to safely return to their homes in Myanmar."

She said he was a "vital voice" for the community who had suffered "unimaginable loss and pain when they arrived as refugees in Bangladesh."

Aung Kyaw Moe, a Rohingya civil society activist and an adviser to Myanmar's National Unity Government, the parallel civilian government established after February's coup, said Mohibullah knew there was always a threat to doing the work he did. But despite that, knew that "if he is not doing the work he is doing, no one else would."

Organizations like the Amnesty International had raised concerns about violence in the camp in 2020, saying that authorities ought to take necessary action to protect refugees or there would be a serious risk of further bloodshed.

rm/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP, DPA)